Thursday, October 29, 2009
This makes Le Vesconte one of only two officers (the other being John Irving) whose mortal remains received a proper burial back home. In Le Vesconte's case, his tomb has been a restless one; originally installed in the Painted Hall, the memorial was moved, bones and all, to a location in a back stairwell of the Chapel. In 2009, it was moved to a far more prominent position in the Chapel's entryway. As a matter of fact, this very evening, I've been invited to attend a special event at the Chapel which celebrates the rededication of this monument, and the legacy of the officers and men of the Franklin expedition ... I can't say more for now, but promise to describe the proceedings, and include photos and more, in another post soon to follow!
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
"After a fair amount of guesswork and reasoned elimination, I would suggest this is probably Captain Frederick Marryat's widely used, classic, 'Code of Signals' or, to give it the full title, 'A Code of Signals for the Use of Vessels Employed in the Merchant Service.' An 8th edition was published in London, 1841, and it's possible a revised edition was issued in 1845, a few years before Marryat died. It was first published in 1817 and was still in use, officially and unofficially, into the 1890s. Vesconte's copy certainly looks like a special edition of some sort, possibly given by a friend or colleague to wish him well on his voyage into the unknown. Of course, until more research is done, we can't possibly know the details."The inset image on the right in the composite above is taken from a Google Books scan of the 10th edition, which came out in 1847, a little too late for Le Vesconte, but as it seems likely he would have taken the most recent edition, it may well be that of 1841. Although the book itself is unremarkable, its author, Marryat, brings a rich resonance to the image. Marryat was an acquantance of Dickens and a prodigious novelist, who more or less established the classic narrative arc of the "sea story" in which some likely lad runs away to sea, faces a series of challenges and adventures, and eventually rises to the rank of Captain. The earliest of these, The Naval Officer, or Scenes in the Life and Adventures of Frank Mildmay (1829), was said to be partly autobiographical. Who knows but that some of the younger lads aboard Franklin's ships might have been inspired by such tales?
In wartime, Royal Navy signal books were often bound in lead, so that, should an enemy overrun the vessel, they could be thrown overboard and counted on to sink. The one in Le Vesconte's hand looks almost to be made of wood -- perhaps a measure to ensure that it would float if dropped. This also suggests to me that such a specially-bound volume may well have been enhanced by additional signals; some systems of the day included specific signals designed for surveying coastal areas, a labor in which we know Le Vesconte and Fitzjames were enagaged in even before the ships left Greenland. The 3/1 indication looks at first like a price, but perhaps this simply means it was one of three copies.
I'll have more to say about Le Vesconte in my next post, but for now, suffice it to say that this offers another instance of how the remarkable level of detail preserved by the Daguerreian process offers numerous avenues for further discovery.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Then it was time for my own presentation. I used as my main (actually, my only) visual aid the 1928 Gould map, with which I was able to illustrate all the efforts to find some more final resolution of the Franklin mystery in the wake of McClintock's determinations of 1859. In particular, I talked at length about the Inuit evidence gathered by Charles Francis Hall, and later analyzed with such diligence by David C. Woodman. I also discussed the vital contributions of other amateur searchers, ranging from Hall to Barry Ranford, and offered the conclusion that the progress we've made, and any hope for an eventual solution, are absolutely dependent on collaboration of both amateur and professional searchers.
Somehow, on our return to town, a number of us found the energy to gather at O'Brien's pub for a final round of pint-lifting. The next morning, though we were all unaccountably feeling a tad groggy, we gathered again to hear Dr. Michael Rostove guide us through "The Great Books of Shackletonia." As a book collector myself, even though these titles were out of my area (and in most cases, out of my budget as well!), I found his account fascinating, especially with regard to the printing points of Aurora Australis, the first book entirely printed and bound in the Antarctic. After the tea-break which followed his talk, the lecture hall quickly filled to capacity, with scarce standing room at the back, in anticipation of Lady Marie Herbert's talk, "The Way of the Explorer." Speaking with quiet dignity and nimble wit, she recounted her first meeting with Sir Wally Herbert, and some remarable stories from the time they spent together in Northwest Greenland with their daughter Kari. Her talk was beautifully illustrated with photographs from the time, and her account of her own journey after loss to the world of Native American spiritual practices was especially moving. At the conclusion, there was a long and lasting roar of applause, followed by so many questions that Seamus Taaffe, in charge of the proceedings, was obliged to ask other questioners to wait until the afternoon forum.
Lunch came again -- for some -- while my good friend Dr Huw Lewis-Jones and I put the final polish on our program of polar films. The audience was delighted with our choices, paricularly (if I may say) with our screening of Georges Méliès's 1914 "Conquest of the Pole," for which I provided a few wry vocal annotations. During part of the sequence, I was joined my old friend Kenn Harper, as we showed some materials about early Arctic films related to turn-of-the-century "Esquimaux" villages at World's Fairs. Everyone seemed delighted with our final film "Frigid Hare" (1949), a Bugs Bunny classic which has Bugs rescuing a sad-eyed little penguin from a ravenous Eskimo.
The conference concluded with the traditional forum, in which all the lecturers took questions from the audience, with Bob Headland serving as host. At the conclusion of the forum, he introduced Irish Green Party TD Mary White, who announced that Ireland is to subscribe to the interntional Antarctic Treaty, in part as a tribute to Sir Ernest Schackleton, as well as to the efforts of the Shackleton School in lobbying for this result. A thunderous round of applause followed.
Further proceedings, following tradition, were continued for a final night at O'Brien's, where nearly everyone was present for at least part of the evening. I was particularly pleased to have another chance to talk with Joe O'Farrell, whose guest posting on this blog was very widely commented upon, and who is surely one of the stalwarts of the School, having attended every year since it was founded. From Joe we all learned a new turn of phrase, as he's fond of using the word "chuffed" -- which in North America means something like "heated," but in Ireland means "delighted" instead. So, as Joe might say, I'm absolutely chuffed to say what a wonderful time I had at the Shackleton school this year, and although next year will mark its tenth anniversary, the organizers will have their work cut out for them improving on this year's success.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
[Editor's note: Readers of this blog may recall my referring, among other theories as to the whereabouts of Franklin's ships, the work of Joe O'Farrell on the reports that the two ships had been seen, fast-frozen to an iceberg and abandoned, drifting off the coast of Newfoundland. I'm very grateful to Joe for being willing to share his carefully-researched account, originally delivered at the McClintock Winter School in Dundalk in January of 2008. On that occasion, unfortunately, other speakers went well over their allotted time, and as a result the paper had to be severely condensed. I offer here an excerpt from this remarkable presentation, as well as -- for the first time -- an accessible copy of the entire text. I'm certain that readers of Visions of the North will be excited and intrigued to hear of this remarkable and yet still little-known incident in the range of possible solutions to the Franklin mystery.]
"A very strange thing happened in May 1851. An item appeared in (of all places) the May 28th 1851 issue of The Limerick Chronicle, an Irish newspaper. Written by a John Supple Lynch of Limerick, to his uncle in England, it relates the story of his voyage on the “Renovation” from Limerick to Quebec, Canada, and, how, close to Newfoundland on or about April 20th of that year, his ship passed within a few miles of a big ice-flow upon which were stranded two ships. He said that the ships looked to have been abandoned, for, having studied them through the telescope, no sign of life or movement could be detected. Obviously a man reasonably acquainted with maritime affairs, he formed the opinion that they were consorts, and, surprisingly, expressed the view that they must be the missing Franklin ships. He added that the mate of his ship also observed the scene, but not the captain, for he was ill in his bunk below.
For two specific reasons, I find this letter quite fascinating.
Firstly, it shows the widespread knowledge of, and interest in, the Franklin Expedition of 1845. It‟s quite unbelievable that this man, who described himself to the subsequent Admiralty Enquiry as “an ordinary man”, should, in the Limerick of 1851, and as a post- famine emigrant to Canada to start a new life, even be aware of, or have any interest in, the goings-on of his colonial masters and in the Arctic to boot!
Secondly, it's very strange, but eminently understandable (bearing in mind the rather parochial circulation of a newspaper such as The Limerick Chronicle) that this matter did not come sooner to the attention of the Admiralty in London.
Indeed, it may never have come to any official attention were it not for the fact that the captain of the “Renovation”, on arrival in Quebec, and no doubt at the prompting of his passenger John Lynch, mentioned the episode to his fellow sea-faring colleagues, and, in this way, the matter eventually came to the attention of the Authorities in London. Further interest in the matter was generated by a letter which appeared in The (London) Times of May 8th 1852, almost a year after John Lynch's letter appeared in The Limerick Chronicle. It corroborated exactly what John Lynch's letter said."
Click here to read the entire paper.